firefighters work a crash site

Consideration is being given to what additional measures might be imposed on the Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD), or city workers in general, in response to the spread of COVID-19.

CSFD recently imposed a mask mandate on firefighters after an undisclosed number contracted the virus. Masks must be worn at all times, other than while fighting an active fire, while eating, sleeping or being outside a building alone, said Curt Crumb, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5.

Crumb didn't know if an outbreak has been declared at any fire station in the city, but department spokesperson Mike Smaldino pointed to reports made to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that show outbreaks at six fire stations dating to October 2020. Those include stations 4, 10, 11, 12, 17 and 22. All have been resolved, the report says.

"The fire chief and mayor, they are not looking to impose a vaccine mandate, Crumb tells the Indy. "They're trying to avoid it, if possible."

"But they have implemented a mask mandate to try to keep our people and the public protected," he adds.

Crumb, who serves on the department's pandemic task force, says more accurate numbers might be available at a meeting slated for Sept. 15, but he says he thinks "a little north of 60 percent" of firefighters have been vaccinated. That roughly matches the 61 percent of the population in El Paso County who are eligible for the vaccine and are fully vaccinated.

Crumb reports that firefighters are working more overtime these days to cover for fellow workers who are using sick leave at a "higher than normal" rate, some due to COVID quarantine requirements, but also for those taking vacation time. There have been no schedule changes to deal with sick firefighters or those on days off, he says.

"I can't say, specifically, we have had this massive spike" in absences, he says.

Asked for Local 5's stance on a vaccine mandate, Crumb says, "That's a tough question. We've stated our desire to the administration that we don't like the idea of a mandate. The problem for me is, as president, I have people on both sides of this thing. We haven't publicly come out with a stance. From my personal view, I'd like to see people vaccinated."

Crumb says there's no requirement that the unvaccinated submit to testing at regular intervals. However, those showing symptoms must be tested regardless of their vaccination status, he says.

Says Smaldino, "As for the talk of mandatory vaccination, we are not planning on mandating vaccinations at this time."

Lt. Jim Sokolik with the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) says via email he's unaware of any outbreak at the department, and no vaccine requirement has been imposed.

"Employees do wear masks," Sokolik says, "but there is no requirement that they do so at this time. Next month,  employees that are not vaccinated or do not have an accommodation, will have to wear masks."

Meantime, it's unclear whether President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates for federal workers and contractors, and all businesses with more than 100 employees would apply to local governments.

The Colorado Municipal League posted an article that says:

"Most employers are not mandating the vaccine and do so only when they have a workplace that is an essential business, and employees must come into work and be in close contact with others. If an employer mandates a vaccine, there are legal considerations. Foremost are religious protections and disability accommodations.

"Religious protections are stronger in the public sector workplace, where an employer can have no rule that promotes or prohibits the recognition of a religion. There is also the duty to accommodate religion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If this issue is raised by an employee, a careful analysis with help from an attorney is in order. Typically, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when an employee cannot be vaccinated due to a disability, any accommodation must be explored and then the employer must determine if it is reasonable. Mask mandates continue to relax, so it may be a reasonable accommodation to allow an employee back to work without a vaccination."

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.